The US Presidency and Tecumseh’s Curse

In 1840, General William Henry Harrison easily won the US presidency. He was
celebrated as a war hero for having participated in the Battle of Tippecanoe, which
defeated Tecumseh’s Shawnee forces. However, Harrison’s presidency would be short-
lived. Some say it’s a result of “Tecumseh’s Curse”.
According to legend, Chief Tecumseh sent a prophetic message to General Harrison. The
message contained a premonition outlined by Tecumseh’s brother, who had accurately
predicted a lunar eclipse and gained credibility as a seer. The Shawnee warning stated
that if Harrison were to win the presidential election, he would not finish his term.
Furthermore, “After him, every great chief chosen every twenty years thereafter will die.
And when each one dies, let everyone remember the death of our people.” A curse had
supposedly been set on the White House and its future occupants.
The legend of the curse was not widely known until 1931 when a “Ripley’s Believe it or
Not” book brought publicity. In 1980 the Library of Congress would be unable to
substantiate that Tecumseh had sent this message.
Nonetheless, Harrison’s presidency was indeed brief and unfortunate. He delivered a long
inaugural address on a cold and windy day, and then he was caught in a rainstorm. He
contracted a cold that quickly led to pneumonia and death. His death would be seen as the
beginning of a long pattern: from 1840 to 1960, presidents elected in a year ending in
zero would be assassinated or die of natural causes while in office.
The next supposed victim of the curse was Abraham Lincoln, who was elected in 1860.
He was assassinated during his second term in 1865, just a few days after the Civil War
had officially ended. His assassin was the Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth.
The twenty-year cycle next met President James Garfield. He took office in March of
1881. He was shot within a few months and died in September of that year. His assassin
was Charles Guiteau, who was “upset” after being denied a diplomatic post by Garfield’s
Next, William McKinley survived his first presidential term, but he was elected again in
1900. He was shot in 1901 while attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New
York. He died about a week later. The assassin, Leon Czolgosz, was a self-described
anarchist who called McKinley “the enemy of the people”.
Warren Harding was the next president to die while in office. He was elected in 1920.
During a 1923 cross-country Voyage of Understanding, President Harding died at the
Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The cause of his death is uncertain. Food poisoning and
pneumonia may have been underlying causes. Newspapers cited heart attack or stroke,
but suspicions of suicide or murder abound. Harding was an unpopular president and
publicly stated that he wasn’t fit for office! Some have accused Mrs. Harding of ending
her husband’s life; he was known to have extra-marital affairs, and he secretly had a child
with another woman.
The 1940 presidential election was met with newspapers headlines shouting “Curse Over
the White House!” Franklin Roosevelt was then elected to his third presidential term, and
then a fourth in 1944. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1945.
The curse’s final victim would be President John F. Kennedy, who was elected in 1960.
He was assassinated in 1963 while riding in a motorcade through Dallas. There are many
conspiracy theories about his assassination, but Lee Harvey Oswald was officially judged
to be the lone gunman.
The Shawnee curse was well-publicized by the 1980 election. President Carter was asked
his opinion about it during a campaign stop that year. He replied, “I’m not afraid. If I
knew it was going to happen, I would go ahead and be President and do the best I could,
for the last day I could.”

President Ronald Reagan, who was ultimately elected in 1980, is believed to have broken
Tecumseh’s curse. He escaped a serious assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr.
within months of his inauguration in 1981.
The curse is also known as: the Curse of Tippecanoe, the presidential curse, the zero-year
curse, and the twenty-year curse.
(word count 693)